Talk to your pet in a sweet little baby voice? People may give you funny looks, but don’t worry, you’re not nuts! In fact, anthropomorphizing—ascribing human form or attributes to an animal, plant or material object—is actually a sign of intelligence, says Nicholas Epley, professor of behavioral science at the University of Chicago, who said that while anthropomorphizing “has been treated as a sign of childishness or stupidity,” it’s actually a natural byproduct of the “tendency that makes humans uniquely smart on this planet.”
Epley is the author of Mindwise: How We Understand What Others Think, Believe, Feel, and Want, and arguably the world’s foremost anthropomorphism expert. He says that people anthropomorphize objects and events all the time—naming cars, boats, plants and musical instruments. This is the byproduct of having a brain that is programmed to see and perceive minds. It’s part of our drive for connection.
While studies have not yet explicitly proven the link between anthropomorphic tendencies and social intelligence, Epley believes the association is likely strong. The more often we engage with other minds and try to read other’s intentions, the more socially intelligent we become. So keep talking to your pet (or your car or your plant), and the smarter you’ll become.